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Coleman, Wellstone battle over national defense
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
July 24, 2002


Republican U.S. Senate candidate Norm Coleman plans to spend the next two days traveling throughout Minnesota criticizing incumbent DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone's record on national defense. Coleman says had Congress gone along with Wellstone's past anti-defense spending positions, more U.S. soldiers would have been killed in Afghanistan. The Wellstone campaign is accusing Coleman of politicizing the tragedy of last fall's terrorist attacks and is calling Coleman's remarks sad and innappropriate.

Norm Coleman has long criticized Sen. Paul Wellstone's reputation in Congress for voting against, according to Coleman, almost every defense spending bill that's come across Wellstone's desk over the past 12 years.

"National defense. Huge issue. Huge issue certainly this is a time you know where our country is at war," Coleman said earlier this year at a campaign appearance in Hinckley. "You go back over the Wellstone record and I think was it nine out of 11 years voted against perhaps every piece of military equipment our folks used in Afghanistan."

Coleman is labeling Wellstone's record on defense abysmal, at least until recently.

"He has, up until September 11th, been the strongest advocate of demilitarizing the military, of cutting down and dismantling America's military. And the bottom line is he's simply wrong. It was the wrong vision and god forbid that we would have followed that vision. I think in these times when it's so apparent that you get peace through strength, the Wellstone record is perhaps the worst in the Senate on these issues."

In fact, Wellstone successfully campaigned for election in 1990 pledging, among other things, to work toward dramatic defense spending reductions. He opposed the Gulf War and frequently called for shifting defense spending to social programs.

However, Wellstone voted with President Bush on the most recent defense bill authorization, and he has supported several pieces of anti-terrorism legislation dating back to the mid-1990s.

Still, throughout his 12 years in Congress Wellstone has, in most cases, argued and voted against increased defense spending.

"Over the years while I've voted certainly for many defense spending bills and don't give any ground in making sure our troops are well-trained and well-supplied and well-equipped," Wellstone said. "But I also think it's important to be a watchdog and where there's waste to take it on."

Coleman says Wellstone's past opposition to defense spending had more to do with bad judgement than fiscal responsibility. And Coleman says under policies backed by Wellstone, more American soldiers would have been killed in Afghanistan.

"I don't question his patriotism. I question his judgement," Coleman said. "If we followed his judgement we would be in big trouble. We would have lost more lives on the ground if we followed his judgement."

And Coleman suggests Wellstone's pro-defense spending votes after September's attacks were politically motivated.

"Do you believe his post September 11th transformation is real or do you think he's just sticking his political finger into the wind and deciding this is what folks want now and then you get him back there in six years again and then he does what he's always done which is to try to tear the heart out of the American military," Coleman said.

"The comments that Mr. Coleman has made are troubling," Wellstone said. He bristles at the notion his recent pro-defense spending votes were less than sincere.

"It's really so unfortunate he's going down this road. I really mean it," he said. "None of us could have ever believed that we would have been attacked in our own country like we were. None of us would have ever believed the horror of it. And President Bush asked for full support for our military and for full support of homeland defense and I have given him that because I think it's the right thing to do."

Wellstone's campaign is accusing Coleman of using the 9/11 tragedy to try to get votes and is calling Coleman's comments about American causalities in Afghanistan "low blow politics at its worst."

But Coleman denies he's politicizing last fall's attacks. Instead, Coleman says he's simply pointing out Wellstone's record and a sharp ideological difference between himself and the incumbent on the issue of national defense.

A CBS News - New York Times poll conducted last week found Americans are concerned about national security and terrorism more than any other issue.

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